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Use Your Department of Education to…

Consitution
U.S. Constitution

Before this absurd presidential election is over and the chilling potentialities have faded, I want to urgently request something of our next president. 

We are a great country with a wealth of resources, a rich culture that derives from its heritage of immigration and a government that has been carefully designed by some really smart people. We are greatest when we thrive to better ourselves based on the honorable principles that guided the best of our countries designers. As such, we have an immense responsibility to ourselves and to the world. 

In recent months, I have also come to realize how fragile our country is — not because of a failure of resources, culture or even our government (surprise).  It’s because we have forgotten what our country is about and the spirit behind its creation —  and our education system deserves a large part of the blame.  We endeavor to prepare our children for their future workplace, and rightly so.  But we have increasingly worked toward this goal at the expense of preparing them to become knowledgeable and responsible citizens of a democratic society. 

We have angrily express our dissatisfaction with how Congress, the President and the Supreme Court conduct governmental affairs.  Yet, according to an Annenberg Public Policy Center study, only 36% of us could name all three branches of government. 35% could not name a single one. Only 27% knew that two-thirds of the House of Representatives and Senate could overturn a Presidential Veto. 21% believe that a 5-4 Supreme Court Decision is sent back to Congress.* Yet the constitution we apparently know so little about grants us the power to select those who will fill our offices of leadership. 

Therefore, I earnestly beseech our next president to use his or her Department of Education to enact a complete overhaul of Social Studies education in America.  We need to understand the history and heritage of our country, both our successes and our blunders.  ..And, additionally, we will not be able to accomplish this without escaping the tyranny of high stakes testing and the multiple choice knowledge that it precipitates. 

The United States has an exciting history that folds into an even more exciting world history, and it all influences nearly every aspect of our daily lives.  Learning about that history and its social, cultural and economic implications should be just as exciting — and it can be. 

It should be. 

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” - George Santayana

..or worse, have it rewritten for them!

* Annenberg Public Policy Center. (2014). Americans know surprisingly little about their government, survey finds. Retrieved from http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/americans-know-surprisingly-little-about-their-government-survey-finds/

Comments

  • Rachel Trefzger

    What a refreshing post to read! I was actually homeschooled until 7th grade and my mom taught me to love this country and ready story after story about how it was founded. When I switched to public school, and that passion and pride was not there when I learned about America and that saddens me. When I read your statistic about US citizens not knowing the 3 branches of government, I thought to myself, “Oh no, I better not be one of that statistic!” I quickly stated them to myself and looked it up to confirm I was right (and phew I was).

  • Joseph Moseley

    OMG, Yes. Our education system is not teaching every student what they need to become a functional member of society. We are worried about teaching to the test or getting them ready for college, that we miss some of the most primal lesson we need. I know people who are not sure how the presidential election goes. I will admit that there are things I should know but don’t this is a failure of the education system. The next president does need to do an over haul on the whole education system, and hold the districts accountable, without teaching to the test.

    • Sam Woolaway

      I totally agree with you that we should be teaching students to thrive within society. I teach kindergarten and at this point with the intense standards in reading and math so much of what people remember about kindergarten has been taken out because of time restraints. We have seen such a huge uptick in negative behaviors in students and I think that it has a lot to do with the expectations academically that are put on students at such a young age. We sadly no longer have the time to teach students how to interact with others and learn motor skills that are essential in writing and cutting. We just expect students to come in with these skills but that is silly to think that they will.

      • Karie Forrest Cooper

        Teaching students to thrive within society used to be an aspect of family values. Recent decades have seen a huge decline in family values and citizen expectations. Then, values and proper behavior was supposed to be taught and reinforced in preschool and kindergarten. Time for excellent etiquette and structure have been eliminated from from the kindergarten day, being replaced with “academic content”. This has led to students having little experience with how to act, how to be an active citizen, how to listen to others, how to be responsible. My question, then, is where and when are these values going to be taught? Well, they aren’t. The rise in negative behaviors we see are directly correlated to a lack of social studies. Whether it is government for four and five year olds or for elementary or high school students. It is all social studies. I believe social studies needs to be an integral, if not THE integral, aspect of each of our major academic content areas; math, reading, and writing.

  • Kelly Abadie Francis

    WOW! I loved reading your post. For so many years, I have been fighting a loosing battle with Social Studies education. Many schools and districts feel that history is just not as important as math or reading and its often looked at as a after thought. Many schools do not even have a true history or social studies curriculum and its suppose to be “blended) into other subjects. Its so sad to see how much of our past is unknown to our future generations. For this reason, I have taken it upon myself to instill the importance of history in my daughters, just as my father did with me. When we go on vacations, we go to educational places such as Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. In fact, this past month, we took my 9 year old and 6 year old to NY and visited these two historical sites. Both of my daughters were full of excitement and joy. My 6 year old laid down at the feet of Lady Liberty and screamed, “This is my dream come true?” It actually brought tears to my eyes. My oldest spent the entire day pouring over historical information at Ellis Island, asking many questions about our ancestry and how/why our family came to this great nation. As an educator, I was so proud of my children and their love for history. It just saddends me that they are not learning much of it in their classrooms.

  • patrick gustafson

    I am new to the world of blogging. I enjoyed reading David’s post and plan on continuing to follow this thinking.

    I completely agree with his comment, “As such, we have an immense responsibility to ourselves and to the world.” We need to preserve our rich history of supporting all citizens while maintaining a global presence. With so much going on in the world today, we have lost our focus.

    American education has shifted over the years. While we emphasize 21st Century learning and promote global citizenry, are we truly preparing our students for the future? I agree with your premise, “We endeavor to prepare our children for their future workplace, and rightly so. But we have increasingly worked toward this goal at the expense of preparing them to become knowledgeable and responsible citizens of a democratic society.”

    I am appalled by the lack of knowledge displayed on a daily basis in this country. Working in a predominantly middle class suburban high school setting, I am disturbed by the apathy expressed by low voter turnout year after year. Fewer than half of registered voters make it to the polls. You hit the mark by saying, “Yet the constitution we apparently know so little about grants us the power to select those who will fill our offices of leadership.”

    I am curious about your thoughts with respect to the statement, ” I earnestly beseech our next president to use his or her Department of Education to enact a complete overhaul of Social Studies education in America.” With the election over, based on the new secretary of education’s complete lack of experience and understanding of public schools, where do you see our education system heading today? What can be done?

  • Karie Forrest Cooper

    David,
    Thank you for your thought provoking post.
    I am a third grade teacher responsible for teaching the three branches of government and local government organization and decision making. Your statement, “We endeavor to prepare our children for their future workplace, and rightly so. But we have increasingly worked toward this goal at the expense of preparing them to become knowledgeable and responsible citizens of a democratic society.” is entirely true in my building.

    I am baffled that anyone would feel that teaching eight and nine year olds test taking skills for the PARCC exam (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) is more important than teaching them how to be active, engaged citizens in their families, classrooms, schools, neighborhoods, towns, states, and countries and how government works in each of these environments. Yet, that is the reality with which I am faced on a yearly basis. I am held accountable for students that can read, write, and do mathematics according to a timed, standardized test. I am held accountable for students who can, in 60-90 minutes, manipulate content to which they have no connection, for which they cannot study or prepare, and for whom frequently has no relevance.
    Please, Mr. President, I, too, ask you to focus your Department of Education on a social studies overhaul. Let’s stop asking our students to regurgitate useless information on disjointed assessments that are developmentally inappropriate. Let’s ask them, instead, to engage in the history of the world which they will be running in a few short years!


Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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